Pop Goes the Easel
“Pop”, a bold and very new musical about Andy Warhol and his factory boys and girls now at the Studio Theatre has a lot going for it: it’s smart and sharp, its witty and biting, it has something to say and sing about art, it’s designed with a pop,, if you will, creating and re-creating an atmosphere of what it might have been like to move around the pale and distant sun of Warhol’s world.
And yet, something doesn’t push it over the top, and after a while, you realize that what this show, for all of its intelligence and seriousness needs is the kind of pop that made Andy Warhol pop, a fizz of vulgar fun.
Somewhere in there, after climbing three or four flights of stairs, after watching Warhol pop images fly on the walls or stick like a fly, after seeing Warhol define the essence of a paper bag, of seeing a crew of attractive (none more than Matthew DeLorenzo as superstar Candy Darling) needy famous wannabes, artists, actors and models cavorting on a striking factory set, you feel like you should be invited to up there and frug, or that you have to restrain yourself from jumping on the stage.
In the intimate upstairs space of the Studio’s 2nd Stage, which has seen Jack Kerouac in his natural surroundings, the cast of “Hair” splayed against windows, and “Reefer Madness” goes crazy mad, you’d think this over-the-top urge would be on tap. It’s not quite there. Maybe because Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K Jacobs’ show is just a tad too smart, too serious about art. That’s not a necessarily a bad thing, and if you’re Stephen Sondheim it’s a very good thing.
The smart stuff—the song about the paper bag for instance, which contains nothing, which contains the world and the essence if Warhol-speak, and the dance and song by the trio of expressionist super-stars, for instance—are very smart indeed.
And Tom Story—pale of face, dark of leather jacket—gets Warhol’s utter weirdness, his stand-offish presence, the guy so very prescient (about fame, vulgarity, stardom, the commerce of art) but not quite present. He’s surrounded by people who want his light to shine on them, to make them right here and now famous and not just for fifteen minutes.
That includes the likes of the already noted Candy Darling, Viva the Superstar who went to the Sorbonne before doing porn, the little rich girl Edie Sedgewick, an odd and sad turn of little girl blonde flightiness that’s also wingless.
The sets are just real and riff and raff enough to make you bathe in the ambiance of a kind of art that’s art because somebody, usually Andy, says it is.
The focus of the show is the near-assassination of Warhol in 1968, a shooting that certainly shocked Warhol, if not the world. But that’s the 2nd problem: we already know who did it, historically speaking, but that doesn’t stop you from really appreciating the performance of Rachel Zampelli as Valerie Solanas, the head of the super aggressive SCUM (Society for Cutting up Men), who thinks Warhol will stage her play. (He dumps it probably where it belongs, a toilet which doubles as an art work).
Warhol showed us that anything can be art, anyone can write, and anyone can be a star or be famous for the usual amount of time, thus anticipating reality shows, the breach and reach of the internet, the eventual meaninglessness of too many words, and the worship of celebrity.
Lacking the fun factor that ought to be all over the stage, what’s left is still entertaining, fascinating and junk food for thought. But don’t dance, they won’t ask you. (Through August 7)